Accessibility analysis highlights transit deficiencies in New Orleans

By Chris McCahill

The average transit user in New Orleans can access only a fraction of the opportunities that drivers can, according to a local advocacy group, and recent transit investments aren’t helping much. The group, Ride New Orleans, just released its annual State of Transit 2018 report, which includes an analysis of the number of jobs accessible by car and by transit within 30 minutes. They found that the average transit user can only reach 12 percent of the region’s jobs within 30 minutes, compared to 89 percent for drivers.

Considering a 60-minute commute time, transit riders can reach 42 percent of the region’s jobs. That’s a little more than two-thirds of the way to the Regional Transit Authority’s 2027 goal, which is 60 percent (and 65 percent for low-income households).

The report also depicts travel times by transit to hospitals and clinics throughout the city and includes rider profiles, which tell the stories of transit users alongside their personal travelshed maps.

Figure 1. Rider profile with personal transit accessibility map. Source: Ride New Orleans

Taking a cue from agencies like the Virginia Department of Transportation, RTA could prioritize its future transit investments based on similar accessibility analyses, to ensure the agency is on track for meeting its 10-year benchmarks. So far, however, things are off to a slow start. Access to jobs increased only one percent in two years, according to the State of Transit report.

Mobility Lab also called attention to one of the less fortunate findings in the report—that accessibility seems to have dropped along a new transit line. The current Rampart-St. Claude streetcar line opened in 2016, but the number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes dropped by more than 1,000 along the corridor. One explanation, according to Ride New Orleans, is that existing buses were re-routed and certain bus stops were eliminated. A decrease like this could also be explained, however, if new development along a transit line pushes households (particularly those in the lower income brackets) or jobs into more remote locations.

No matter what an agency’s accessibility-related goals are, analyses like these are beginning to shed important light on the pros and cons of different investments and, when used thoughtfully, can help them maximize the benefit from every dollar they spend.

Chris McCahill is the Deputy Director at SSTI.